A Catholic Labour MP has introduced a Bill that would legalise same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, saying that he is “living the message of the Gospel”.
Conor McGinn, who was born in Northern Ireland but represents St Helens North in Merseyside, said that God was on the side of equality and compassion.
Speaking in the House of Commons last Wednesday, Mr McGinn described himself as a “practising Catholic”, joking that “My parish priest would undoubtedly say that I probably need to practise a little more.”
Mr McGinn said he has been asked whether, given what he called “the position of the Church hierarchy”, the Bill was in conflict with his faith.
He commented: “ Let me say this as gently and, I hope, as appropriately as possible: the God I know is one of love, compassion and understanding.
“In showing that to others, in standing up for the marginalised and those denied their rights, I believe I am living the message of the Gospel in this Holy Week”.
Private Members’ Bills rarely become law: they are given little parliamentary time, and can easily be derailed. A similar bill was presented in the Lords earlier last week.
Theresa May has declined to back Mr McGinn’s Bill, saying that same-sex marriage is a “devolved manner” which Northern Ireland ought to deal with “soon”.
Northern Ireland’s governing assembly is currently suspended after its two main parties – the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin – failed to reach an agreement to form a government.
The suspension means that the UK government is now temporarily ruling the province directly, giving MPs from mainland Britain the chance to overturn laws which would otherwise be left to Northern Ireland’s elected representatives.
Northern Ireland has much stricter abortion laws than the rest of the UK, and is the only part of the British Isles not to allow same-sex marriage.
Mr McGinn, formerly an Opposition Whip, followed Church teaching in voting against allowing terminally ill people to be given assistance to commit suicide.
In an article in the Guardian Mr McGinn wrote: “Equal marriage has the backing of the SDLP, the Alliance party, Sinn Féin, the Green Party, as well as the support of other smaller parties and senior members of the Ulster Unionist Party.”
Only the DUP, which the Tories rely on for their Commons majority, are opposed to it. In November 2015 members of the Irish Assembly voted by the narrowest of majorities – 53 to 52 – in favour of changing the law, but this was blocked by the DUP.
Northern Ireland secretary of state Karen Bradley has confirmed that the House of Commons has the power to put through the legislation – and that the Conservative Party will allow its MPs a free vote on the issue.
“Same-sex couples should not have to wait any more for this long overdue change and to enjoy the same rights as my constituents in St Helens, or people in Dublin, London, Cardiff or Edinburgh,” Mr McGinn wrote.
“The UK government has a moral duty to act and bring in legislation to finally end this discrimination.”
Archbishop: Pope may visit North
Pope Francis may visit Northern Ireland during his trip to Ireland in August for the World Meeting of Families event, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has said.
“If they were to organise an event around the family, that might make it easier. Not a political event,” Archbishop Martin told the Irish Times. A visit has been thought unlikely.
Earlier the archbishop told RTÉ that the Ireland trip was so brief that “some of the protocol issues may take more time than meeting with the poor.”